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There’s a great need for rigorous, relevant, and impactful learning about climate change, one of the most important issues facing our generation. When interdisciplinary learning and student choice are incorporated, students can attain a more enduring understanding of climate change, think innovatively, and transform their ideas into meaningful civic action.

Our project: rising Sea Levels

For “The Water Line Project,” students researched how 10 feet of rising sea levels would impact 23 coastal states in the United States. From their research they created a presentation and shared their knowledge with their class in a think-pair-share model. They also shared their research and learning with community members within and outside of the school. 

The “Water Line Project” bulletin board had printed research slides, a map of the United States marked with paint to visually represent land affected by 10-foot rising sea levels, and papier-mâché sculptures. Based on their research, students picked one animal or insect that rising sea levels would negatively affect. Using recycled newspaper and wheat paste, they created three-dimensional papier-mâché sculptures and attached them to the same bulletin board. The public display of learning allowed students the opportunity to engage the larger school population in an interactive and authentic way.

At the heart of every great project is student choice. When students have choices in their learning and how they demonstrate it, they’re more engaged, invested, and able to see the relevancy and application of their learning.

“The Water Line Project” allowed students the opportunity to investigate and use their curiosity to generate their own questions, which they used to guide their learning. Students could choose which state they wanted to research and what insect or animal to focus on. Many students picked their state based on personal experiences, such as having family or traveling there; they chose their animal as a result of research of adaptations and ecosystems within that location. 

One way to help students begin to unravel the complexity of peer-reviewed research and data is to create teacher-guided research pathways. Using thoughtful structures, intentionally choosing where students can explore openly, and having limits scaffolds knowledge, allows creativity to flourish, and encourages student ownership of learning.

“The Water Line Project” used the online learning platform Canvas and research pathways where each subtopic of climate change, such as shrinking of the Arctic ice, deforestation, and thawing of permafrost, had its own webpage that included a wealth of resources, such as videos, articles, and guided data platforms such as that of NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) or the “Sea Level Rise Viewer” from NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). In addition, an embedded Padlet allowed students the opportunity to share their research with other students from different sections and different academic years.

The goal of using informational text and interpreted data is to teach students to question bias, consider multiple perspectives, and embrace ambiguity. This is often difficult for students and requires strategic questioning and planning. One strategy is to begin with statistics that are relevant to a student’s experience. For example, in “The Water Line Project,” students could look at the impact of rising sea levels on an area of interest, like sports stadiums, art museums, and national and state parks, as a starting point for their research. From that point, students refined their research and had to focus on certain data points. 

Giving students the opportunity to look critically at data and to consider the context with which the data is being analyzed opens up the conversation to begin framing future research and information. 

When students feel empowered to share their learning with a wider audience, they begin to see themselves represented and reflected in their communities as agents of change. This brings relevancy to their learning, since they can apply it to many different aspects of their lives.

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Climate Change Is Turning The Snowy White Alps Green

The European Alps are one of the world’s most iconic mountain ranges. The snow-capped peaks are renowned for their winter sports and unique alpine ecosystems, especially in places like Mont Blanc—the highest peak in the Alps, known as the White Mountain. But these places are increasingly impacted by climate change, putting their snow cover and names like the White Mountain, at risk. 

New research shows how the creeping loss of snow cover and increase of vegetative land cover, as consequences of climate change, have impacted the European Alps over the past 40 years. The study, from the Spatial Ecology Group at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and recently published in the journal Science, reports that there’s been enough snow cover loss that the change is visible from space. 

But the more significant part of the research focuses on the increase of vegetative cover, or “greening” of this mountain region. Nearly 80 percent of the Alps above the tree line have experienced this rise in plant growth, which has severe implications for the ecosystem and could potentially accelerate certain factors that contribute to climate change. 

Snow cover is dropping

The study team, led by Sabine Rumpf of the department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Lausanne, used remote sensing and satellite images to observe land cover changes across the whole European Alps. They found that summer snow cover, which is typically present from June through September, had a stronger decline than snow cover that lasts all year. This significant decrease in snow coverage was present in 10 percent of the area they studied. 

The researchers used two methods to measure the change in snow cover. For summer snow cover, they measured how long and how much snow lasted in certain areas over certain months. For year-round snow cover, they identified only whether snow was present—not how much was there. Different factors shape the loss of these different kinds of snow cover, which can point to various climate issues.

“The loss in year-round snow might suggest that a different threshold is being crossed, because it’s going from one land cover type to another,” Adrienne Marshall, a hydrologist at the Colorado School of Mines who specializes in snow, says. Areas that saw a decrease in year-round snow were more likely to have shorter summer snow cover, too. But greening only coincided with changes in snow cover in a fraction of the Alps, the study showed.

Snow matters. Though 10 percent may seem like a low number, the researchers emphasized in their paper that this change is indicative of an important global warming trend. Mountain glaciers and snowmelt provide half of the world’s freshwater. The length of growing seasons for alpine plants are shaped by how long snow cover lasts. Snow cover also serves as a distinct water source for plants that rely on snow melt—less snowmelt throughout the growing season will be increasingly problematic as droughts become more frequent and severe. 

Experts predict that the European Alps will lose up to 25 percent of its snow mass over the next 10 to 30 years. At the same time, the “greening” in the Alps has increased significantly. A previous study in 2023 concluded that only 56 percent of the mountain range had seen more plant growth. Rumpf and her team calculated a number that’s closer to 77 percent, which includes a boom in native alpine plants as well as newly colonizing species. The increased plant growth, the paper explains, is largely catalyzed by changing precipitation patterns and growing seasons due to climate change. 

“The scale of the change has turned out to be absolutely massive in the Alps,” Rumpf said in a press release. 

Going green

While there are potential benefits of more plants that can suck carbon dioxide out of the air, researchers say that the negatives outweigh the good. 

“From the perspective of global change feedbacks around carbon sequestration, plant productivity feedback in this region might not be that important,” Marshall says of the study. Mountain regions don’t see as much plant growth as other places around the world, like in the tropics, so any additional plant growth that does occur likely won’t have as much of an impact on carbon sequestration as other regions with a richer plant ecosystem. 

But other feedback systems could have meaningful impacts: An uptick in plants in the Alps will alter snow patterns, speed up snowmelt, and reduce snow cover. Reduced snow cover combined with greener mountains also means less albedo effect, which occurs when the white frosty layer reflects sunlight back into the atmosphere. This feedback loop speeds up the warming process around the world, causing furthers glacier melt, permafrost thaw, habitat loss, and fading snowcaps 

On the bright side, Marshall says studies like these help researchers like her gain a better understanding of how climate change affects snow and related ecosystems. 

“It gives us a useful regional look at some concurrent changes between snow and greening that help us get at those potential impacts on vegetation and potential feedback loops,” Marshall says.

“You get different changes at different locations,” Marshall adds, explaining that being able to compare changes in different ecosystems and parts of the world clarifies how she understands her own areas of expertise. “It helps to see that.”

What You Should Know About The New Climate Change Report

It’s a beautiful day to talk about climate change. Pixabay

Even tiny increases in global temperature—give or take just 0.5°C—could severely alter our planet, bringing us hotter days year-round, the total destruction of the world’s corals, more dangerous flooding, and increased instances of drought and wildfire. Even though we have the technology and know-how to cap warming at a 1.5°C increase, humanity is on track to warm the planet by 3°C by the end of the century.

What, exactly, the IPCC report says

The report combined expertise from 91 scientists and government agents from 40 countries around the world, and referenced 6,000 studies and reports. The final document is intended to guide policymakers as they make decisions about how to cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

If business continues as usual, the report says it’s likely the globe will reach 1.5°C of warming between 2030 and 2052. If we manage to cap warming at 2°C in this century, as the Paris Agreement aims to do, we would still be living with the extreme effects of global climate change—like the loss of all the world’s coral reefs.

“Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5°C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the IPCC group, in a release.

How will 1.5°C or 2.0°C of warming affect me?

Earth has already warmed about 1°C compared to average temperatures in pre-industrial times—that is, before humans started burning lots of fossil fuels. You can already see this incremental change in your everyday life.

“We are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels, and diminishing Arctic sea ice,” Panmao Zhai, co-chair of IPCC working group focused on the physical science of climate change, said in the IPCC release.

An additional 0.5°C of warming would mean the hottest days of the year get 3°C hotter across much of the globe. The number of hot days in a year will go up almost everywhere, though the tropics will be hit particularly hard.

The differences are even more evident when you compare a 1.5°C increase and a 2°C increase. At 2°C of warming above pre-industrial levels, eastern Asia and eastern North America will see more heavy precipitation events, and tropical cyclones (like hurricanes) will dump even more rain. Meanwhile, other parts of the globe will get less rain and face persistent periods of drought.

The scientists also estimate global sea levels will be four inches higher if we reach 2°C. Ice in the Arctic Ocean would melt completely in the summer at least once a decade instead of once a century. And “virtually all” coral reefs would die off, instead of just 70 to 90 percent of them. Because other air pollutants are often spewed along with greenhouse gas emissions, reducing emissions enough to limit warming to 1.5°C by 2100 could also potentially prevent 150 million premature deaths around the world in the next 80 years. That’s because worldwide, ambient air pollution is one of the leading contributors to illness and death worldwide, according to a study of global disease burden in 2024 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

What will our leaders do to keep climate change from irreversibly altering our planet?

To limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, Earth’s inhabitants need to reduce our global net CO2 emissions by 45 percent compared with 2010 emission levels. We need to do that in the next 12 years. We would have to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere completely by 2050. To do this, governments need to change land use practices, make our buildings more efficient, switch to clean energy sources, revolutionize manufacturing practices, and change the way we get around.

We also have to physically remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In the climate models in the new report, every scenario that keeps global warming below 1.5°C involved carbon capture strategies, which are currently largely theoretical or possible only on a small scale. To keep us from exceeding a 1.5°C increase, humans need to remove 1,000 gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2100.

“Limiting warming to 1.5°C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” said Jim Skea, co-chair of IPCC’s climate change mitigation group, in the IPCC’s release.

This year, global greenhouse gas emissions are expected to rise, not fall. Most countries are not on track to meet their Paris Agreement goals. That includes Germany, which has invested $580 billion in renewable energy. The United States has declared it will pull out of the agreement entirely in 2023.

With current policies, including those from Paris, the global temperature increase could reach 3°C over pre-industrial levels, wrote Diana Liverman, one of the IPCC authors who studies the human aspects of climate change at the University of Arizona, in a statement by her university. That much warming would mean a state like Arizona, which already experiences sweltering summers, could get hotter still by an average of 7°F, Liverman said. That much warming would mean cranking up the effects of 2°C of warming: Even more extreme weather, higher seas, hot days, and the loss of whole ecosystems, like coral reefs.

The report is one of six currently in the works by the IPCC. It will serve as a focal point for the Katowice Climate Change Conference in December, when countries gather to review the Paris Agreement and discuss a way forward.

World leaders will have to take fast, drastic action to avoid the future laid out here, or worse. It’s not impossible for us to curb warming at 1.5°C, but it will require massive political will, capital investment, and mutual determination.

Four Things You Can Do To Stop Donald Trump From Making Climate Change Worse

Many people are uneasy about what the next administration will mean for the future of our planet. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The next president of the United States is not likely to prioritize environmental protection. President-elect Trump has claimed that human-caused climate change is a hoax. During his campaign he’s threatened to “cancel” United States participation in the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to within two degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. He has said he would dismantle President Obama’s signature Clean Power Plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants. He has named a climate change skeptic to lead the EPA transition team.

We don’t know yet which plans Trump will stick to, and he cannot undo all of the regulations and agreements made during the Obama administration overnight. It would take years to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, although Trump could refuse to enforce it.

Here’s the good news: regardless of what the next administration does (or refuses to do), global action to thwart climate change will continue. And you can help. If you’re worried about the environment, here are a few things you can do:

Speak out

Show the government how desperately the public wants to slow climate change. Find your elected representatives. Send them a message about the impacts of climate change, and the actions you support.

“Start acting locally when you run into a roadblock globally,” recommends Debbie Sease, the Sierra Club’s Senior Director of Advocacy. “You can say ‘no’ to Mr. Trump in terms of, ‘please don’t attack the environment,’ and then you can work with your local city council to try to get your city to adopt things that are moving toward a…clean energy future.”

The benefits to working locally will spread beyond your own city and state. “It’s not just a consolation prize,” Sease says. One example of how this has played out, she says, is the fuel efficiency standards that President Obama set for cars and trucks (although they might take a beating in the next four years).

“What made it possible for him as president to come in and successfully do that was the fact that…states including California, which is a huge auto market, had adopted state standards,” she says. This made auto manufacturers more willing to agree to a national standard. “That work at the state level…set the stage for major progress at the federal level,” Sease says.

Get involved

If you’re feeling disheartened, read a few of the statements nonprofit groups such as American Rivers, Defenders of Wild Life, and Earthjustice have released in the wake of the election, promising to fight harder than ever to defend the environment.

Then donate to an environmental organization, or find out which groups have state or local chapters near you and volunteer (you can also find opportunities to pitch in at volunteer.gov).

Here are a few environmental organizations to check out:

Natural Resources Defense Council

350.org

Sierra Club

Environmental Defense Fund

Ocean Conservancy

Another way to help: support environmentally friendly businesses and cleaner energy sources such as wind and solar. President-elect Trump may support the coal industry, but, “If the marketplace is saying, we want clean energy, we want to get off of fossil fuels, and we find clean energy cheaper, it ties his hands,” Sease says.

Shrink your carbon footprint

There a plenty of ways to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions related to everyday activities like traveling to work and using electricity.

For starters, unplug your electronics when you’re not using them. And when your smartphone, laptop or television bites the dust, recycle it. Also, if you weren’t already recycling paper or glass and plastic containers, start doing that too.

When you can, try to walk, bike, carpool with others, or take public transportation.

A lot of energy goes into producing and transporting food, so try to buy locally grown food, plan how much food you actually need to avoid waste, and cut down on red meats (which require more energy than other foods).

You can find more tips here.

Take care of yourself

So sign up to clean a river, plant trees, or monitor how clean the water is in your community. And don’t lose hope. “It can seem very daunting,” Sease says, but, “people should not say, well there’s nothing we can do.”

Antarctic Methane Is Leaking And The Climate Change Impact Could Be Huge

Antarctic methane is leaking and the climate change impact could be huge

A new source of methane leaking into the Antarctic ocean has been discovered, with concern about how the greenhouse gas could be driving climate change. Although so-called methane seeps – where the gas bubbles out from an underground reservoir and into the ocean – have been identified in multiple locations around the world, this latest example is the first to have been spotted in Antarctica.

It’s the handiwork of a team of marine ecologists from Oregon State University, and the subject of a study published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. While this may not be the first methane seep identified, the researchers believe it to be “fundamentally different” to others.

Typically, methane seeps would be accompanied by a microbial mat: a layer of bacteria which live on the microbes that feed on methane. While this Antarctic seep does have a microbial mat – indeed, it’s around 230 feet long and 3 feet in width – roughly 32 feet beneath the frozen surface of the ocean, it’s not been behaving as others might. Developing later than previous models would have predicted, the microbes in the mat aren’t consuming all the methane, either.

That means it’s likely that at least some of the gas is escaping into the atmosphere, the researchers suggest. Given how potent a contributor to atmospheric warming methane is, that’s a worrying discovery.

“Methane is the second-most effective gas at warming our atmosphere and the Antarctic has vast reservoirs that are likely to open up as ice sheets retreat due to climate change,” Andrew Thurber, one of the authors on the study, explains. “This is a significant discovery that can help fill a large hole in our understanding of the methane cycle.”

In the course of five years of studying the seep, and the way the microbial mat formed, assumptions about how rapid those microbes colonize the area were challenged. The most common sort of methane-consuming microbes didn’t appear until after five years after the seep formed in 2011, for example. Scientists had previously believed that it would be a far quicker process.

“What was really interesting and exciting was that the microbial community did not develop as we would have predicted based on other methane seeps we have studied around the globe,” study co-author Sarah Seabrook explains.

The hope is that, through further examination of the methane seep and the ecosystem forming around it, the team can figure out whether this atypical development is something pretty much exclusive to the Antarctic regions, or in fact a sign of how all seeps are early on in their lifespan.

Lending weight to the concern is the sheer quantity of methane that’s believed to be trapped under Antarctica. The region is believed to contain a quarter of Earth’s marine methane, in fact, and until now it was unclear just how much, if any, was escaping into the planet’s atmosphere.

This Year’s Physics Nobel Honors Work On The Complex Systems Underlying Climate Change

The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann, and Giorgio Parisi for their contributions to how we understand complex physical systems, such Earth’s climate, as well as the phenomenon of climate change. Manabe and Hasselmann share one half of the award, and Parisi received the other half.

The universe’s systems of matter seem almost miraculously complex, and even more astonishing than their complexity is their apparent simplicity. Even something as banal as the weather report is an inestimably intricate part of a series of predictions based on millions of years’ worth of patterns. Manabe, Hasselmann, and Parisi sorted through the chaos of a constantly evolving environment to find reliable patterns, separating the signal from the noise, and finding structure within the randomness from the atomic level to the planetary. Manabe and Hasselmann won for their work on physical modeling of Earth’s climate and reliably predicting global warming; Parisi discovered of the hidden patterns in disordered, complex systems that make it possible to describe seemingly random phenomena through these rules.

Syukuro Manabe, a meteorologist and climatologist at Princeton University, showed how higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere lead to increased temperatures of the Earth’s surface. In 1960, he spearheaded physical climate models, becoming the first person to probe the interaction between radiation balance (radiation coming into versus off of the planet) and the vertical movement of air masses within the atmosphere. Working with a simplified model, Manabe found that carbon dioxide levels increased global surface temperature by over 2°C, while oxygen and nitrogen had virtually no effects on it.

Syukuro Manabe’s climate model.

This model verified that carbon dioxide, as opposed to solar radiation, caused this surface temperature increase—temperatures close to the ground rose while atmospheric temperatures dropped. Were this change due to solar radiation, the entire atmosphere should warm simultaneously. From this insight, Manabe moved on to a groundbreaking three-dimensional model, which he published in 1975.

[Related: Nobel Prize awarded to researchers who parsed how we feel temperature and touch]

While Manabe was focusing on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, Hasselmann, a professor at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, fixed his gaze on climate and weather. Weather fluctuates wildly every day, whereas climate is the average of weather conditions. Because weather varies so quickly, it’s difficult to calculate. About ten years after Manabe, Hasselmann created a stochastic weather model, meaning a model that accounts for chance. But he went a step further—he also developed methods to account for human impact on the climate. Those methods have allowed researchers to link climate, weather, and human intervention into complex climate models.

About 1980, Giorgio Parisi, a theoretical physicist at Rome’s Sapienza University, demonstrated a greater principle underlying systems like the climate, showing that the randomness of some phenomena belie a web of hidden rules. Parisi explored the nature of a particular kind of matter called spin glass. Spin glass is an alloy, a composite metal made of two or more metal elements. For example, one type of spin glass is iron atoms randomly mixed into a grid of copper atoms. These few iron atoms alter the material’s overall magnetic properties. Each atom behaves like a magnet, or spin, and usually all the spins point in the same direction. But in spin glass, the spin is frustrated, which means some spin pairs want to point in one direction while other pairs want to point in the opposite direction. In his book, Parisi likens this atomic behavior to a Shakespeare tragedy. Think of Romeo and Juliet: While they love one other, each receives opposing signals from their family to despise the other. Their attraction is stymied by family pulling them in different directions.

Spin glass is the basis for many complex models, and in 1979 Parisi applied something called a replica trick to a spin glass model problem. A replica trick is a mathematical technique that processes many replicas of a system at once, which had been impossible for physics. Parisi found a clandestine structure in the replicas and used it to solve a spin glass problem. His work on spin glass altered not only physics but also mathematics, biology, neuroscience, and machine learning. This research also relates back to the climate system.

The Nobel Prizes are awarded each year in October in a number of categories; the main ones in science are medicine and physiology, physics, and chemistry. Last year’s prize in physics went to Roger Penrose for his discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity, and to Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the center of our galaxy.

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